Four tries in the final 11 minutes of play have secured an incredible come-from-behind victory for the Newcastle Knights, who defeated the Wentworthville Magpies in a do-or-die clash at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Honeti Tuha scored another double and was on song for the Magpies, along with second-rowers John Folau and Frank Pritchard. The Knights' amazing late surge was engineered by halves Jack Cogger and Jaelen Feeney, however, with the win confirming their place in the 2017 finals series.
Extremely windy conditions made work hard for both sides, with the Knights playing into the breeze in the first half. That was compounded by the short-term absence of leading tryscorer Tom Hughes and the first-half injury of winger Thomas Cronan, forcing a back-line reshuffle early in the contest.
The Magpies were boosted by the inclusion of former Kiwi international Josh Hoffman in a return from injury, while Tuha lined up at fullback after initially being named on the bench. It would only take four minutes for that move to pay dividends, with Tuha weaving his way through for the first try; that came off the back of an impressive charge down by captain Cody Nelson, who streaked away down the left-hand side to earn his side valuable field possession. Nathan Davis would convert as the Magpies hit the lead early.
When the Knights got their first opportunity it ended in a Jack Cogger error and the Magpies proceeded to pile pressure on their line. Siosaia Vave looked the most likely in Wentworthville's middle third but the pressure was soon released when Newcastle regathered their own goal-line dropout.
Wentworthville still had all the running but were unable to execute for a long period. With the Knights' right-side defence appearing the most vulnerable, eventually George Jennings seemed certain to score for the Magpies, but an outstanding Jacob Gagan trysaver would deny the winger and send him into touch.
Just minutes later, however, the same edge would bring more points for Wentworthville as Tuha exploited the defence of Braden Robson - filling in for an injured Thomas Cronan at centre - before passing to Davis to score. The extreme breeze was then clear for all to see, with an outstanding conversion by Davis followed a freak restart which flew 20 metres before being sent back to halfway and into touch.
Robson and Gagan looked to make amends for the previous try and with seven minutes remaining in the half, Gagan made the most of an overlap to score. While the difficult conversion attempt fell short, it brought the Knights back to a 12-4 score line - and having held the Magpies out in the final minutes of the half, scores remained until the break.
While the Magpies enjoyed the majority of possession and field possession in the opening half, the difference was not a big one considering the breeze behind their backs. Switching sides in the second half, it soon became clear that life would be more difficult when playing into it; after a pair of Frank Pritchard offloads almost sent Tuha over again, the opportunities were squandered to keep Newcastle in the contest.
Ten minutes into the second stanza, Knights lock Tyrone Amey came up with the highlight of the afternoon. Apparently caught on the last tackle, a well-measured grubber through the middle of the ground was regathered by the former Holden Cup forward, before he dummied to Jaelen Feeney and raced away to score. The conversion attempt hit the upright and Amey retreated to the bench after bringing his side closer.
At two tries apiece, Newcastle appeared to be edging closer until an extended period of possession for Wentworthville halted the momentum - and eventually turned it on its head. After numerous attacking raids on the Knights' line, Dane Aukafolau took a Troy Dargan pass to charge through under the posts and score, before a similar play in the ensuing set brought a second try for Tuha. Dargan once again threw the final pass for the fullback to score under the posts, with Davis converting again for a 24-8 score line.
The Knights were desperate for points with the clock winding down, with Chanel Mata'utia going within inches of scoring, but some Jaelen Feeney brilliance then brought the much-needed try. The five-eighth stepped through on the left-hand side, dummying and eventually offloading to Braden Robson for a four-pointer. As the Magpies did minutes earlier, Simon Woolford's men then scored in consecutive sets, the second coming from a soaring Brendan Elliot on the end of a Jack Cogger kick.
Within minutes and trailing by six points, the Knights had all the running and in spectacular fashion, managed to score a third in immediate succession. Once again Jack Cogger set it up, this time with a perfectly-placed grubber for Jacob Gagan, who offloaded again to the halfback to score in the corner. After struggling early with the boot, Meaney calmly slotted the conversion to lock scores up.
With the breeze behind their backs, calls came for a Knights field goal but sure enough, they managed to run in a third. Back on the left edge, Elliot swept through for his second - and Newcastle's fourth in eight minutes, without the Magpies touching the ball. Full of confidence, Meaney converted for a 30-24 score line, with Wentworthville unable to score again in the dying minutes.
The result takes Newcastle to 27 competition points and cements their top-eight place, while the Wentworthville side will rely on a Mounties or Illawarra defeat in Round 24 to be in with a chance of playing finals football.
Newcastle Knights 30 (B Elliot 2, J Gagan, T Amey, B Robson, J Cogger tries; N Meaney 3 goals) def Wentworthville Magpies 24 (H Tuha 2, N Davis, D Aukafolau tries; N Davis 4 goals)